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Answer Guy: Invasive Species

Plants such as London Rocket, Puncture Vine (the evil plant that produces goatheads), Russian Sage and Virginia Creeper are “invasive”


Dear Answer Guy: They talk a lot around here about “invasive species.” What, exactly, is the definition?

A: Invasive species, according to the City of Albuquerque’s forester, Joran Viers, are “plants or animals that are not native to a given area and are introduced and find they have very few natural controls and are able to push out native species.”

We can’t cover all invasive species here, but let’s tackle a few.

Plants such as London Rocket, Puncture Vine (the evil plant that produces goatheads), Russian Sage and Virginia Creeper are “invasive” Viers said. He also lists as invasive trees such as Siberian elm and the smelly and oddly named Tree of Heaven.

Let’s start with London Rocket – a weed. It’s not as bad as some invasives, Viers said. It’s a winter annual also known as Arugula or Desert Mustard – yup, it can be used as a spice. “I eat them. It’s not one of the biggest weed issues,” he said. London Rocket can fill in areas before spring comes and then come back the following year from seed.

To get rid of it, pull it up before seeds form, or use insecticide. The upside is it doesn’t have stickers, like the vicious little bugger I’ll tackle next.

The Puncture Vine produces goatheads – those sharp, thorny stickers that resemble the head of a tiny goat. This dastardly weed wasn’t introduced intentionally, Viers said. It came in probably on vehicle tires. It does well in dry, rocky sites such as abandoned sidewalks and untended yards.

Intentionally introduced or not, it is the bane of bicyclists. To combat them, local bike shops can sell you goathead-proof inner tubes that are pre-filled with puncture sealant. Goatheads get into houses via the soles of shoes. To step on a goathead in the middle of the night is an unfortunate rite of passage to living in Albuquerque.

Getting rid of this felon of nature isn’t all that difficult, Viers said, because it has a central rooting and vining system. He recommends wearing thick gloves, grasping the vicious little vine right at the central point and pulling. The plant can be pulled up pretty easily. And make sure you get the seeds. “I’ve used a Shop Vac to get the seeds up,” Viers said.

Another method is to find an old blanket and drag it around the yard. Throw away the blanket – it gave its life for a valiant and useful purpose.

Another invasive is the landscaping plant Russian Sage. It survives on native precipitation, Viers said. The problem is that if “you plant one, then you have lots” due to their propagation method. At some point, this plant might become an issue, Viers warned. But I say, what the heck – they smell nice and attract bees.

The Virginia Creeper can harm native trees through its prodigious growth – not by climbing up a tree and suffocating it but by denying it necessary sunlight – the old plant dies through being shaded out, Viers said. The leaves of Virginia Creeper turn a great multitude of reds in fall. To get rid of it, you have to pull up the vines and get at the root system. “They keep throwing out more growth,” Viers said. “It’s a great (survival) strategy for a plant.”

Tree of Heaven is a nasty-smelling, weak-wooded tree. It can provide shade, Viers said, but like Siberian elm, it has few redeeming qualities. Both are not going to be eradicated – the genie is out of the bottle. They’re both hardy, will grow where other trees don’t and do it very, very well in places such as garden beds, cracks in sidewalks – anywhere. To get rid of the Tree of Heaven, you have to dig up the roots – don’t miss any.

Now, if you think about it, an argument could be made that even humans are an invasive species, following the definition of invasive species above. After all, humans came from Africa, spread throughout the world and definitely altered and took over lots of territory from established species. It’s something to think about.

Send your questions to The Answer Guy at editor@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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